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Late afternoon rain showers put a dent in the first Experience South Carolina Festival on Saturday in downtown Rock Hill, but in the couple of hours before the downpour, people came from both Carolinas to see so many offerings that make this area special.
The festival was timed to show off South Carolina just as thousands of people arrive in Charlotte – and York County, too – for the Democratic National Convention.
At one end of Main Street, two local gospel choirs had people singing along, while at the other end, the official state heritage horse, the Marsh Tacky from the coast, offered rides to kids. In between were peppers so hot that people rushed for a cold drink, honey, clothes, sweet grass baskets, and much more.
And there was Southern-fried chicken, fried fish, and fried potatoes. This was all South Carolina-style.
One festival-goer, Prince Gladden, said the variety of exhibits and attractions made the Experience South Carolina festival worth attending.
“This has given me a chance to see so many different things that I normally would not see – or not very often,” Gladden said.
The Marsh Tacky horse is specific to South Carolina’s sea coast, and “Molly,” who came to give rides, was a huge hit. Dalton Buckaloo, age 4, called Molly “a cowboy horse.”
“I’m from Rock Hill, Carolina, the best in the world,” said little Dalton, whom organizers should have used as a publicist for the festival.
One local group showed off heritage unmatched by anyone anywhere. Many members of the Catawba Indian Nation, with its reservation in York County, demonstrated dances and pottery which make the tribe one of this area’s main cultural identities.
The Catawbas are the sole federally recognized tribe in the state, and its people trace their heritage back more than 6,000 years. Catawba pottery from local Catawba River clay is considered among the finest hand-crafted work in the world.
Saturday offered a chance to share the Catawbas’ history and traditions with newcomers, said Chief Bill Harris.
After the event started at 4 p.m., rain moved in, but there were few frowns. The festival had made a name for itself.
And as many people said at the festival, muggy summer afternoons in South Carolina mean rain a lot of the time. The temperature was well over 90 degrees when the rain started, even though it is September.
That rain is part of the heritage around here, too.
The McKissick family of Chapin came to the festival and showed another thing that makes this state unique: divided loyalties during football season between the University of South Carolina Gamecocks and the Clemson Tigers.
“I Googled this, and we decided to come up here and see what it was all about, and it is great,” said Sherry McKissick.